High school required courses range between STEM and the humanities to art and physical education; yet textbook classes do not provide adequate support and preparedness for the real world. Through the current education system, skills like running or starting a business are rarely ever taught.
Seeing that students have “enormous untapped potential,” Laurie Stach founded Launch, an entrepreneurship program for high schoolers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
“The current system teaches students that there’s one right answer to a question that will be given to them in life, when that’s not the way things really work,” Stach said. “Coming up with the question is as important as the answer — you need to be resourceful, adaptable, and innovative — and what better way to learn these skills than through starting a real company.”
According to MIT Launch’s website, their mission is to “enable high school students to launch a company, by providing the resources needed to go from ‘idea’ to ‘implementation.’ For each of our students, we aim to instill a self-starter mentality, teach tangible, practical business skills, and introduce entrepreneurship as a career path.”
What started as just a four-week long summer program that gathers students from across the globe to the MIT campus has led to Launch Clubs in high schools year-round to even a free six-week online course, LaunchX.
However like any other startup, Launch inevitably faced challenges on the journey to getting to where they are now.
“Most of [the challenges] were able to be overcome with a bit of perseverance and confidence. In the early days, I was concerned that my lack of background in education would limit me, but soon learned to leverage what I do have instead of focusing on what I don’t,” she said. “It also took some time to develop the relationship with MIT in the early days, but things worth doing typically take more time, and I had to remind myself of that through the hurdles.”
And the program is only going up from here.
“In the next 5-10 years,” Stach shared, “we want to continue this trajectory — for MIT Launch to be the gold standard in high school entrepreneurship education. This includes expanding the clubs, developing additional online courses, and growing our reach internationally through regional partnerships.”
But besides learning how to start a business, students develop much more than just the company during the program, even using the tagline, “unleash your inner entrepreneur,” to encompass the overall program’s mission.
“Students talk about their heightened self-awareness — in what they want to do with their lives, how to develop their unique skills and talents, and how they work with others. They also learn many other professional skills alongside their company — resiliency, leadership, feedback, communication skills, selling — that make them more effective entrepreneurs plus prepare them for the real world, regardless of their future path,” she said.
Stach and the Launch team provide an integrated system to allow for students to grow on both personal and professional levels.
“Being an entrepreneur takes more than just the business skills — it takes having the heart (passion and drive), head (knowledge of the process), hands (ability to take action, and home (community),” she said.
Yet the key to finding the right startup takes finding the right person.
“It always starts with the right entrepreneur/team. And they need to have a combination of passion for the problem they are solving and some skills that will make them suited to solve it.”
According to Stach, some problems that especially need solving include education, preventative healthcare, financial markets for developing nations, and further development of the “sharing economy.”
Through Launch, she is working to solve some of the biggest education issues that the nation faces.
“I love that I have the creative freedom to solve what I see as a huge problem facing the world through education. I can’t imagine being able to get the same feeling of impact and combination of strategy and personal touch with people without having started a company to do so,” Stach said.
With 9.4 million women-owned businesses in the United States, the role of women in the booming entrepreneurial and startup industry is undeniably vast and is still continuing to grow.
For girls interested in entrepreneurship and business, Stach said, “Just do it.”
“The hardest part is getting started, and I’ve found that women tend to want to have all the answers before committing to something. You’ll never have all the answers when it comes to starting a company, but if you just jump in, things gradually become more and more comfortable. The best thing you can do to prepare for being an entrepreneur isn’t to write a 20-page business plan. It’s to get started.”
Contributor: Carina Oriel